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SNP use Europe talks as nationalist lever

12 July 2007

Gavin Yates (Edinburgh, GYMedia): A Salmond strategy is emerging, and quickly. The SNP leader, has used his debut overseas trip as First Minister to signal closer Scottish ties with Europe as, he hopes, a precursor to independence.

Salmond visited the European Commission to hold talks with Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson and Fisheries Minister Joe Borg. Fishing is a totemic issue in Scotland. Salmond is keen to ensure that he can lead on the issue and at least appear to be making progress towards a better deal for the Scottish fleet.

At the same time, the Executive has pledged £250,000 to SCIAF for overseas aid in Darfur. Foreign aid is 'reserved' under the terms of the Scotland Act, i.e. it is not for the Scottish Executive while previously fishing negotiations have been dealt with via Westminster with Scottish Ministers only contributing to talks. These moves on fishing, trade and aid suggest the SNP believes that playing on a European and World stages can help create a momentum behind a Scottish exit from the UK.

So a pretty clear indication of direction of travel is being established, while a paper on independence is expected in the coming weeks. It's fairly safe to say that reserved issues like nuclear power and trident will get plenty of SNP comment.

At the same time, Salmond and the SNP are cooperating with Westminster effectively on terror issues with the aim of showing that it is also a safe route and not a security risk to support the SNP's goals. This is also the strategy behind the appeal to Muslims as a Scottish community, as discussed in the current article, criticising Alex Salmond, by Tom Gallagher just published in openDemocracy.

With a majority of just one seat, Salmond faced a choice of being moderate and playing the traditional game of being 'responsible' or instead govern as if he had a landslide endorsement. He seems to be going for the latter. Just as a calculating Scotsman is commanding the agenda of Westminster politics, so his counterpart in Edinburgh is trying to do likewise in Holyrood.

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